June is a big month for birthstones. Usually I will just highlight what is considered to be the main birthstone for the month, but June gives us three very different minerals, so I am compelled to relay a bit of information on all of them: Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite.
Most people are familiar with pearls, and though not nearly as popular today as they once were, humans have worn them for at least 7,500 years! Pearls are organic gemstones that are created by oysters and mussels, by both salt and freshwater varieties. The pearl itself is composed of nacre (mostly calcium carbonate) and complex proteins.
Natural pearls are extremely rare and very expensive, and were almost depleted by the 20th century until Japan and China began to “culture” them. Natural pearls are created when a foreign body, such as sand, gets into the oyster or mussel and the organism builds a protective coat of calcium carbonate and proteins around the invader in order to protect itself. Once we figured out this process, it became quite easy to introduce a mother of pearl bead into the organism to create an affordable pearl that everyone could enjoy = cultured pearl.
Since plastics have been developed, there has been an explosion of plastic pearls produced for costume jewelry. Some of these, of course, are unfortunately passed off as real pearls and sold to unsuspecting buyers as such. However, the savvy pearl shopper can usually identify a real pearl from a fake by its luster, which plastic can never imitate. Natural pearls also have a gritty texture that can be felt when rubbed across the teeth (this is the method I always use when looking at pearls). And one can always inspect the strand of pearls for uniformity…imitation pearls are usually perfectly round, without blemishes or indentions. You can also check the drill holes…real pearls will have a well-defined hole that does not have chipped or rough edges, and shows no bulge at the drill spot.
Being one of the birthstones for June, and the 3rd and 13th wedding anniversary stone, pearls are awash with superstition due to their long history with humans. While historical lore generally indicates that people thought of pearls to promote wealth and good health, love and fertility, some caution that pearls, like tears, can bring sadness. This is why it is considered bad luck by some if a bride is given pearls by her man to be, or a pearl engagement ring (fortunately guys know that she wants a diamond anyway!). Happy or sad, pearls look amazing as jewelry, and with all of the various colors available, a variety of pearls is a good thing to have in any woman’s jewelry collection.
There are a couple of things to remember when cleaning and caring for your pearl jewelry. Though pearls are compact and resistant to being crushed, they are relatively soft, registering between 2.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. For this reason, they should be kept in a soft bag or pouch, separate from other jewelry to prevent scratches. We also recommend using a mild soap and mineral or distilled water when cleaning, as tap water contains chlorine, which can damage pearls. It is also good practice to avoid getting hairspray or perfume directly on your pearls in order to prevent discoloration. Keep in mind that pearls don’t like heat or direct sunlight, and can crack or yellow, respectively, as a result. Always wipe your pearls with a soft cloth after wearing them to restore their natural luster.
Moonstone is a very well known gemstone, and displays a unique property called ‘adularescence’, which is the name of the effect of its bluish white glow that can be seen in various light. This shimmer can look similar to the moon’s glow, hence the name. I won’t get into the details of why this mineral does this because it’s a boring description of its chemical structure, but I should say that the effect is so cool that people have been mesmerized by it for thousands of years. In fact, only the opal comes close to the moonstones’ effects on play of color, but the moonstone’s glow seems to come from within the stone itself.
Moonstone can be found all over the world, and is found in almost every color. While most people are familiar with white or blue moonstone, some lesser known, but equally impressive colors include peach, green, red, black, and champagne. India is know for its ‘rainbow moonstone’, and Sri Lanka for its blue moonstone, though this particular color has become increasingly rare. Even rarer are the coveted ‘cat’s eye and star moonstones’, which can command steep prices.
Moonstone is typically cut into the oblong dome shape known as ‘en cabochon’, which maximizes the shimmering effect. In general, the more translucent the stone, the more desirable (and expensive) it is, but even cloudy moonstone exhibits the inner glow that makes it so popular.
Because moonstone has been around for so long there are many beliefs associated with it. Some cultures have thought that the stone was formed from moonbeams or drops of moonlight, while others say it promotes fertility and passion. Others still have thought that you can see your future in the stone’s glow, and wearing it will bring you fortune. Who knows if any of the beliefs or superstitions regarding gemstones have any truth to them? We like moonstone because it is beautiful and captivating to look at, and if it brings passion or fortune…bonus.
Due to the relative softness of moonstone (6 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale), some care needs to be taken when wearing or cleaning it. Moonstone is perhaps best suited to be worn in earrings, or as a pendant, pin or broach, and though you can wear it in a ring, it shouldn’t be your everyday one…moonstone can chip, crack and scratch easily. Simply clean your moonstone with a mild soap under warm water, and use a soft cloth to dry.
And last, but not least is Alexandrite, which touts as one of the rarest (and most expensive) colored gemstones in the world. Named after the Russina Tsar Alexander II, alexandrite displays not only a color-change effect, but also can change colors depending on the angle you view it from. Typically, the color change effect goes between green (in sunlight) and red (under artificial light). The color changes it displays as a result of the angle viewed is independent from the sunlight/artificial light effect. These properties makes alexandrite one of the most coveted gemstones on the market, and high quality pieces can easily command more than emeralds, rubies, or sapphires…even lab-grown alexandrite is expensive!
Alexandrite was first discovered in Russia, but most of the known sources there have gone dry. Today it is found in Brazil, India, Myanmar, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar, but it is very rare to find specimens over 3 carats anymore. Once cut and polished, alexandrite should be clear, translucent and free from large inclusions. The most sought after stones are the ones that have pure hues, and dramatic color-change ability. Sri Lanka is perhaps best known for producing the best quality alexandrite.
In Russian lore, alexandrite was thought to bring good luck, fortune and love. But being a versatile stone with various color change properties, it is also associated with many other benefits as well. Some beliefs include the ability to increase creativity and learning, enhance peace of mind, enable the owner to cross the physical/spiritual divide, beneficial for discipline and self control, and that it possess healing energies. Who knows if there is any truth to these claims or beliefs, but there is no question that alexandrite is a rare and stunning gemstone that has enchanted people for centuries. Alexandrite is also the 55th wedding anniversary stone...you'll pay for that accomplishment!
Being a relatively hard mineral (8.5 on the Mohs scale), you can find alexandrite cut into any shape imaginable. The only cut that jewelers stay away from is the en cabochon, which is reserved for those even rarer specimens that display chatoyancy (cat's eye) effects. Thanks to its hardness, it is suitable for everyday wear, and can withstand jewelers’ cleaning methods like ultrasonic and steam. To clean at home, simply use warm water, mild soap, and a soft tooth brush. Remember to store it in a fabric-lined box or wrapped in soft cloth to prevent scratches to other softer stones.